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A Little Bit About a Lot of Things

A lifestyle blog with a focus on my food adventures

Friday, 4:30am: wake up and get ready to catch 6am train to NYC.  Arrive in NYC at 10:20am and head from Penn Station to hotel in Chelsea-The GEM, part of the ascend collection, at west 22nd and 8th. Perfect location for what we are looking to do this weekend. We try to check in but no rooms are ready.

(the front lobby)

(there isn’t much room to get around the bed)

(This was the smallest room we’ve stayed in when we have stayed at the GEM hotels in NYC)

(The bathroom had a pocket door-so it was basically right in the room)

So we store our bags and walk to our first outing of the day: a chocolate tour in the Murray Hill area of the city.

So we head to 5th Avenue Chocolates, located at 693 Third Avenue at 43rd Street. They have an alternate location at 11 Madison Avenue at 24th Street. We meet our tour guide, Linzi Jean who has her own food tour company We have booked this tour through Xperiencedays. I figured it was a good idea to go on a Friday, even though the tours were offered during the weekends-my thought being that the actual tour would not be as crowded as well as the shops that we were going to go to. So we are lucky and there are only two other participants on the trip with us-giving us maximum attention and time to shop at each of the stops.

We start at 5th Avenue chocolates, the only store on the tour that makes their chocolates domestically-they have a factory in Valley Stream, NY. They make signature truffles, which we try, that are offered exclusively on Japan Airlines business or first class flights. It is smooth and creamy-great way to start off the trip. So we are allowed to choose any two pieces in the case to try. I go for the tiramisu truffle and the graham cracker cream cheese. The truffle has a hard shell and a smooth inside, and the crunchy part on the outside gives it a nice texture. You would think that cream cheese graham cracker would be a little weird. It was great! The cream cheese was subtle, but it gave a nice creaminess to the chocolate and the graham cracker on the bottom on the chocolate gave it an nice texture. The shop is mainly a novelty shop, so if you are looking for a chocolate dinosaur or a please forgive me chocolate tablet, this is your place.

The tour is a walking tour, so we navigate to our next stop, Neuhaus located at Grand Central Station on 42nd street. The shop is tiny- it occupies a small corner storefront. The good thing about this place is that if you buy $10 worth of chocolate, you can buy the cooler bag for $6, which comes in very handy on a day like today seeing as it is 85 degrees outside.

Neuhaus is a Belgian company known for smooth creamy chocolates. For my two pieces I choose the astrid and the tirimisu.

“The astrid is a praline composed of traditional gianduja (a sweet chocolate blended with about 30% hazelnut paste) blended with a knob of butter to achieve smoother,melt in the mouth texture. With fine sugar glazing, this crunchy creamy combination dates back from 1937 and was created as a tribute to Queen Astrid of Belgium.”  Yum. Indeed it does have a nice crunch on the outside and is smooth and creamy on the inside, it has a great nutty taste.

The tirimisu has a different texture here, much smoother than at 5th avenue chocolates. It has a dark chocolate outside, filled with butter cream and amaretto, and is finished by being rolled in amaretti cookie crumbs. You can definitely taste the amaretto and the cookie crumbs give the chocolate great texture.  On a side note, you don’t have to go to New York to get Neuhaus chocolates, they sell the tablets at Cardullo’s in Harvard Square. Linzi suggested that we also try the cornet, but we don’t have the chance-next time! My companion gets the pagode (it looks like a mini cupcake!) which is a dark chocolate shell with gianduja filling-that tastes like fresh roasted hazelnuts, and topped with a swirl of gianduja. It tastes a little like coffee. Yum! We buy a few chocolates here at the store, along with a cooler bag and make our way to the next stop. We stop at a cart on the street for a bottle of water, not only because it is a warm day, but it really cleanses the palette when you are trying so many different kinds of chocolates.

Next stop, Lily O’Briens at 36 West 40th Street located near NBC. It’s a small shop that has chocolates, but also serves coffee, hot chocolate and other desserts. It is the only Irish chocolatier on the trip and it can get pretty busy sometimes because of its proximity to Rockefeller Center. I get the creme brulee and the butter cream. The creme brulee is AMAZING. Smooth caramel on the bottom, the crunchy sugar on top-I may have died and gone to heaven.

The butter cream was a little disappointing for me-it was super sweet and tasted like something you would find in a Russell Stover box. There were only a few choices for chocolates at the shop compared to some of the other shops we visited (because it isn’t a chocolate shop-it’s a coffee shop that sells chocolates). Although, we did have a chance to sample the hot chocolate there, which was super thick and yummy-so flavorful. Note: this is one of the only stops where a restroom is available.

Moving along, we head to La Maison du Chocolat located at 30 Rockefeller Center, with alternate locations at 1018 Madison Avenue and 63 Wall Street. When you walk up to the store, you know they are serious about their chocolate. They have screens that cover the window that help filter out harmful rays of sunshine and they keep the temperature inside the store at a few degrees cooler than room temperature to ensure the quality of the chocolates.

The people behind the counter are professional, dressed in crisp uniforms and ready to cater to your every need-which should be the case when you are paying over $2 a piece. I can see why some people would think that it is snobby or pretentious, but the chocolate is really at a superior level over the competition. We sit in the back and have a little lesson about chocolate from our guide. She shows us how chocolate is made, and how creamier chocolate is produced when you continually push it through mesh screens. She also tells us that the symbol that La Maison uses is in fact not an “m”, contrary to popular belief, but it is a simplified picture of the machine they use to make chocolate. They choose the pieces for us and it is by far the best chocolate of the day. We have a milk chocolate whipped caramel where you can tell the difference in the texture of the shell and the filling, the filling is soft and creamy and shell is hard, but when you bite into them, they don’t separate. We also have a dark chocolate with lemon peel-and for me this is amazing because generally I don’t like dark chocolate, but this is so good. The lemon is so subtle but flavorful at the same time, and the dark chocolate really compliments the flavor. La Maison also serves up desserts that are as amazing to look at as they are to eat and gelato which, when we sampled (I had the salted caramel) was amazing. The flavors are so rich and bold that you really don’t need a large quantity of it.

We buy a few things here, macarons ($15 for 6) which are all the rage right now, and some hot chocolate which are these wonderful little chocolate balls that melt when you add water to them ($18). Now I know what you might be thinking, water in your hot chocolate, I thought that was reserved only for swiss miss. However, our guide told us that with water, you can get it to temperatures that you just can’t get milk to, and the flavor is better when mixed with hot water-it has a great consistency.

Our final stop on the tour is in Saks Fifth Avenue. We take the express elevator to the top where Charbonnel et Walker is. The best part for me is that you have to walk through the designer shoe salon to get there! The store is located at 611 Fifth Avenue, and when you walk into Charbonnel et Walker, you don’t know what to think.

The counter has jewels hanging from the ceiling, there is a chocolate fountain running constantly, there is a conveyor belt bringing desserts around for all to see! It is a wonderful place to go, so enchanting-the kind of place that little girls would really get excited to go to!  Everywhere you look there is chocolate, inside the case, in boxes on display-you don’t know where to look first.

We try the marizpan and the white chocolate. And this is where our trip ends. Our tour guide has been fabulous, make sure to tip-it’s not included in the price of the ticket, and she gives us information/business cards of all the places that we went to in case we want to stop by again.

We are sugared out but think its best to get some food in us, so we walk down to Korea town to get some lunch. My favorite place is no longer there, the Mandoo bar. So we have to settle for some place new.

We stop at a place that has a lunch special-works for us. The place is Miss Korea at 10 West 32nd Street. They moved into the old Chung Moo Ro space in June of 2010. They do hot pot cooking at the table with a minimum of two orders. This isn’t a novelty to me, just like many other things you can do self serve these day, and really, I may just pay EXTRA so I don’t have to make it myself.

Per usual, lots of small plate complimentary appetizers come out:green beans, pickled vegetables, kimchi, lettuce, bean sprouts etc.

We order the mandoo, which can be steamed or pan fried, but they only serve them steamed at Miss Korea.

We also order the bulgogi that is made in the kitchen-a marinated beef dish. Pretty delicious.
miss Korea BBQ on Urbanspoon

We stop at Pinkberry, just to make sure that I still love it as much as I used to love it. Lucky for us, it’s right across the street from the restaurant. If you are more of a Red Mango fan, there’s one of those down the street.

In fact, yes I do still love Pinkberry-not quite as tart as the frozen yogurt at Berry Line in Boston, but until the Pinkberry opens on Newbury Street, Berry Line it is for this girl! Pinkberry’s are like Starbucks in New York, there is one on every block, and if there isn’t one close, they deliver. You order one of three flavors and then you can customize your toppings: fruity pebbles, fresh fruit, mochi, nuts, granola, chocolate chips etc.

After that we walk of lunch and go on the hunt for cupcakes. First stop: Magnolia’s. My #1 favorite. I always go to the one on Bleeker Street (401 Bleeker), it has the most personality, and it’s the original. ($2.75 per cupcake) Made famous by the Sex and the City show, and from being published in all the travel books, you can always count on there being a line. There are other locations at Grand Central Station on the lower level, 1240 Avenue of Americas in Rockefeller Center, and 200 Columbus Avenue which is the uptown location. So here’s how it works: you wait in line outside, they let only a certain number of people inside at a time, self serve cupcakes are to the left (which again is not a novelty for me). They have a person outside saying once you touch a cupcake you can not put it back, its a health code violation. Well let me tell you how many times I’ve seen touching and putting back. FYI Magnolia Bakery, not everyone in line speaks English, so some people have no idea what you’re trying to tell them. Ok, so once you’re done with self serve, move to the right and stand in line to pay, if you don’t want cupcakes, go right to the right and wait in line for cakes in the display case or banana pudding. The ice box cake is wonderful and the banana pudding is quite good if you’re a fan of that kind of thing. A complaint about Magnolia: they were running out of cupcakes, and there were about 4 people working behind the counter, just talking with each other, not minding the customers. All this being said, Magnolia Bakery, I still love you. So we leave with 4 cupcakes, all vanilla with vanilla of course, but we have to go back for more later because when I get back to the hotel I find that my companion had been careless with the box and they had all toppled over and been ruined.

The second time we go back is Saturday night, and again, we wait in line. Another thing to note: people, don’t try to bring your stroller into the bakery. Are you kidding me? There’s limited room inside and it’s already hard to maneuver without having to climb over your stroller that you’ve left carelessly in an inconvenient place. There is a person who works at the bakery outside letting people in and out, they will be happy to watch your stroller while you pick out cupcakes!! I have to say that Magnolia Bakery has been disappointing me a little lately-between the service this time, and last time (someone brought me back two) the cupcakes were a little stale. Usually the cake is moist and spongy and the frosting is sweet but not too sweet with nice buttery flavor. Plus, you have to love their signature swirl!

Back to the hotel to drop off cupcakes. We walk over to Billy’s Bakery which is right around the corner, 184 9th Avenue with a second location in Tribeca at 75 Franklin Street. It reminds you of a cute little kitchen from the 40’s and you can smell the butter cream from down the block.

I read in some magazine a while back about how Katie Holmes loves Billy’s, and so must have the 20 other people who are in line waiting for cupcakes (aprox. $2.25 each). Billy’s, like Magnolia, has a cult following, people in NYC feel very strongly about their cupcakes. The frosting is a little on the sweet side-sweeter than Magnolia’s bakery, but still quite good. The cake is moist and fresh.

Billy's Bakery on Urbanspoon

We head out to dinner to meet up with a friend of mine from college to Butter. They only take reservations a month in advance, so it can be cut throat trying to get one. You can reserve online at  Butter is located at 415 Lafayette Street between East 4th and Astor Place. This is one of those talked about places that anyone who’s anyone has gone to. You’ve heard the name casually dropped on the show Gossip Girl, you’ve heard your swanky friends talk about crazy nights spent there-all the good things that you’ve heard…they’re all true. We sit in the room that is on the lower floor, the more casual floor, where as upstairs offers a more formal dining experience. The Birch room has an outdoorsy feeling to it with tree lined walls and warm lighting-makes you feel like you are in a wood cabin somewhere. At 7pm, things are quite tame, it doesn’t start to pick up until we are leaving at about 10:30pm. We sit in a large semi circle banquette with comfortable benches. Our waiter doesn’t know much about the wine, and when prompted just keeps saying things about acidity-oh it’s acidic, or oh it’s crisp. It’s like he was reading a paragraph summary rather than knowing what the actual wine tasted like from trying it. I have the tomato and ricotta salad, which was excellent. The tomatoes were at their peak-firm outside and juicy inside and the cheese was smooth and creamy. It comes with summer melon which adds a nice sweetness to the dish-makes it different than every other tomato and cheese salad. I order the special, the swordfish with the black truffle oil (is everything better with black truffle oil??) and my two dining companions have the chicken. The fish is excellent-perfectly cooked, tender and flakey with just the right amount of saltiness. The chicken is reported to be excellent as well, as it should be for $30, a nice crisp outside and juicy, moist and tender inside. For dessert my dining companions order the raspberry beignets ($10)-jam filled deep fried dough rolled in sugar and served warm-make sure to eat them all here, because they just don’t taste the same cold (if you bring them home). They also order the peach cobbler with roasted peaches and bourbon pecan ice cream($12). I thought that the peach cobbler was just blah-it just didn’t do it for me. Good thing I passed on dessert because I had bigger plans for after dinner.

Butter on Urbanspoon

After dinner we walk over to Butter Lane at 123 East 7th Street. (Sun through Thurs 11 am to 10 pm;  Fri and Sat 11 am to midnight) I had seen this place featured on Food Networks “Best Thing I Ever Ate” and it was tagged as cupcakes for grownups.  So we enter the small shop, a blackboard on the wall lays out the types of cakes and the types of frosting they have available. So you would think that you just pick a cake and pick an icing and that’s that. But when I order a vanilla with vanilla and a vanilla with key lime, they tell me that they only have chocolate with vanilla and chocolate with key lime. Bummer.

(vanilla frosting on left and key lime frosting on right)

I have to admit that while I love chocolate, I don’t love chocolate cake…but I reluctantly get the chocolate cupcakes…purely for research purposes of course! Well, let me tell you that even at 10:30 pm, the cake is SO wonderfully moist and fresh that I almost forget that I am eating a chocolate cupcake. It made me think, well maybe I do like chocolate cupcakes after all. The frosting is excellent, as good if not better than magnolias. It’s smooth and creamy, buttery and not too sweet with just the right frosting to cupcake ratio. Moving on to the key lime frosted cupcake-HEAVEN! Magnolia who? The key lime flavor is excellent, just like you’re eating a pie, and again, the cupcake is so moist. It might just be the best thing I ever ate!

Saturday morning. Wake up early and head to the lower east side for doughnuts at the Doughnut Plant (Tues-Sun 6:30am until doughnuts are sold out (5-7pm) CLOSED MONDAYS). If you get a chance to go there, do it on a Sunday, because Kossar’s Bailys are next door and they are closed on Saturdays because of the Sabbath-this way on Sunday it’s like a 2 for 1.

Ok, so back to the Doughnut Plant-they are located at 379 Grand Street between Essex and Norfolk. They have also been featured on the Food Network on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” for their peanut butter and jelly doughnut and on “Throw down with Bobby Flay” for the Tres Leches and Peach doughnuts.

Here’s the best part, usually when you see things on tv, it’s usually not the same in real life when you go.  Mark Israel’s assistant (that you see on tv) is really in the shop every day!(ok almost every day-see photo above)

This morning there is a line, but it’s not too bad, only about 5 people ahead of us. We order the blackberry jelly filled square yeast doughnut with vanilla bean glaze, the peach yeast doughnut and the tres leches cake doughnut. These are all natural doughnuts, there are no preservatives, no artificial anything-so you have to eat them that day (the horror I know!) because they won’t keep like Dunkin’ Donuts.

So let’s start with the blackberry square with vanilla bean. Excellent. They make their  own jellies for the doughnuts, and how cool is it to have a square doughnut? The jam has just the right amount of sweetness and there is just enough of it-the perfect amount in every bite. The dough is soft and the vanilla bean glaze gives it that extra kick of sweetness.

The tres leches doughnut, AMAZING. It’s like the perfect glazed doughnut. Cake doughnuts aren’t as chewy as yeast doughnuts, this one is so moist. The glaze is the best part-you won’t even be able to look at a Dunkin Donut or a Krispy Kreme the same way ever again after you’ve had doughnuts from the Doughnut Plant.

The peach doughnut was my least favorite of the three, but it was still excellent. It was just out of the oven so it was still warm-the best way to have a doughnut! The peach glaze was tasty but I wish that the flavor were a little stronger. The shop is tiny, so the line usually ends up outside. You can get your morning coffee or a bottle of milk and enjoy your doughnut on the bench out front or in a park near by. They are currently working on a second location, which will be a storefront in the Chelsea hotel, they are said to be open this fall, but who knows, the project has been delayed once already. But this location will be much more convenient than going all the way to the lower east side.

We ate our doughnuts in the park and waited for the Hester Street Fair (Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-6pm April to December) to open, located just down the street at Hester and Essex. The fair is relatively small and has a variety of goods for sale, from clothing to food to rugs to jewelry. I have to admit that the only reason I had wanted to go there was to try these ice cream sandwiches that I had heard about from Melt Bakery.

They don’t have a store front yet, so right now this is the only place that you can try one. They have great flavors, vanilla ice cream with chocolate chip walnut ice cream, peach ice cream with brown butter and bourbon shortbread cookies, cinnamon ice cream with snicker doodle cookies, and maple walnut ice cream with oatmeal raisin cookies. These are truly grown up ice cream sandwiches-although kids will love them too. Even though it’s 10:30am, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, and never too early for an ice cream sandwich. So we try the vanilla with chocolate chip walnut cookie sandwich. YUM!!! YUM YUM YUM YUM YUM!!! The vanilla bean ice cream is excellent and the cookies are jam packed with chips and nuts. I can see eating 12 of these in one sitting, but we limit ourselves to splitting just this one-after all, we did just have doughnuts!

Melt Bakery on Urbanspoon

I was hoping to see Sweet Jewels Cakeballs there because I was dying to try one, but she wasn’t there. Bummer.

We hop onto the F train and head over to Brooklyn to meet a friend of mine from high school. We stop over at one of my favorite places, One Girl Cookie located at 68 Dean Street in Brooklyn (Mon-Thurs 8am-7pm; Fri 8am-8pm; Sat 9am-8pm; Sun 10am-7pm). A cute little shop that sells cute little cookies-each with a girl’s name.

We order: the Juliette (chocolate cinnamon ganache between two hazelnut cookies) I love the texture of the cookies and they have a great nutty flavor. The cinnamon is very hard to find because there isn’t a lot of ganache in between the cookies.

the Olga (chocolate mint sandwiched between two sugar cookies) the sugar cookies are good, smooth and buttery. The chocolate mint is light and delicate.

a lemon sandwich cookie-same cookies as the olga-the lemon filling, again, like the olga, is light and delicate with a mild lemon flavor.

and a ‘cookie special’ that is a gingerbread cookie. I love the flavor of this cookie and it’s just the right firmness, not too soft and not too crunchy. Yum! This is such a cute little shop-sort of reminds me of Billy’s bakery. The have other great desserts here as well as coffee (with coffee ice cubes!!).

We stop by my friend’s apartment and then head off to brunch at Frankies 457 located at 457 Court Street in the Carroll Gardens area of Brooklyn. Make sure to stop at the ATM before you go though, they are cash only! There is a cute patio outside and quite a bit of seating when you get past the bar area. The food here is excellent, as well as the service, and I love the decor, really casual, brick walls, big windows to let lots of light in…it just seems like a cool place to hang out.  We are told by our friends that the beet and avocado salad with balsamic is tasty and the fennel salad with celery root, parsley, sliced red onion, lemon and pecorino are very good. We are also told that the cavatelli pasta with house made sausage is excellent along with anything that has bacon in it, because it is quality-thick cut bacon. They also do a brunch menu and we are told that they French toast, or was it waffles, I can’t remember were excellent. We go with the mozzarella, tomato and roasted red pepper sandwich and the gnocchi with marinara and ricotta. Both meals are excellent, the gnocchi is just the right consistency and the ricotta is so fresh. The sandwich is excellent and this is due to the high quality ingredients and the great bread!

Frankies 457 on Urbanspoon

We leave our friends and head over to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. For $6 per adult we walk around for a while and work off our meal. Most of the flowers are not in bloom in late August, the time to go is in May for the Cherry Blossoms.

From here we go back to the lower east side and we visit a standby favorite cupcake place of mine, Sugar Sweet Sunshine a cute little shop located on 126 Rivington Street (Monday-Thursday, 8am-10pm, Friday 8am-11pm, Saturday 10am-11pm and Sunday 10am-7pm). Usually I got for the sunshine (vanilla with vanilla) but something comes over me and I order other things (while also getting one sunshine!). At $1.50 each, these are a great price-and some of the better cupcakes I’ve had-top 5.

(from the top left going clockwise:lemon, pistachio, sunshine, strawberry cream cheese)

I get the pistachio cake with ‘the moose’, a lemon yummy (lemon cake with lemon butter cream) and a strawberry cream cheese. The shop is really cute, it has some personality to it. There are tables in the back and a bench out front for you to enjoy your cupcakes-there are pictures covering the walls of pets and babies-what fun. The pistachio is good-the cake reminds me of this cake my mom used to make-super moist-my mom’s trick was adding jello pudding to the cake but who knows what their secret is. The ‘moose’ doesn’t really add anything for me, but I love the nuts on top, gives the cupcake a nice crunch and good texture. I was afraid of the strawberry cream cheese, I don’t know why, but it was delicious-exceeded my expectations. Strawberry cupcake, not too strong of a taste, with a cream cheese frosting, also not too strong of a taste. Sometimes cupcakes can be overwhelmed by the strong flavor and sheer quantity of cream cheese frosting on a cupcake, but this was the perfect amount with the perfect amount of sweetness. I usually don’t like to mix my desserts with fruit, but for this cupcake I will make an exception. The vanilla with vanilla ‘sunshine’ was perfect. I find that the way to tell a good cupcake place is to test out their vanilla with vanilla cupcakes, if they can do that well, the other cupcakes are probably good too. You have to master the basic before you go crazy with toppings and flavors etc. The lemon cupcake was a bit jarring for me. The lemon icing was super tart and it wasn’t a smooth melding of icing and cupcake.

Sugar Sweet Sunshine on Urbanspoon

We walk up to Maribelle located at 484 Broome Street in Soho (Mon-Sun 11am-7pm). Our chocolate guide from yesterday told us if we had the chance to stop in. So here we are. They have a very high end looking set up, and their chocolates are like works of art. I pick a few pieces out from the case to bring home. They also have a gelato cart inside that is quite popular. Chocolates are best stored between 60-65 degrees farenheit and best consumed at room temperature within four weeks of purchase.

Champagne-good taste with a smooth center.

Coffee-had a very strong coffee flavor.

Peanut Butter-wasn’t tasting it…

Pistachio-The consistency of the filling was weird for me. I used to have gerbils and fed them alfalfa cubes-that’s what the inside of this chocolate looked like to me.

Lemoncello-a faint flavor-but not strong enough…it could have been anything

Toffee-Is it just me? It didn’t taste like toffee….All in all I think that these chocolates were nice to look at, but they were too expensive to not obviously taste like the things they should.

From there we walk over to Kee’s chocolate (Monday through Friday, 9am to 7pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 7pm) located at 80 Thompson Street. Our guide has told us to stop here as well. I had seen Kee’s on Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate” that featured their creme brulee truffle. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, they were sold out. We settle on a pistachio, an almond truffle and a key lime chocolate. Quick fact, Kee’s has a counter in HSBC bank during the week  if you can’t make it to SoHo (452 Fifth Avenue (inside HSBC) Tuesday through Friday, 11:00am to 5:30pm. Just as an FYI, other chocolate tour, the SoHo ‘new cuisine’, goes to Kee’s.

The almond-white chocolate truffle coated with toasted almonds. The white chocolate is so smooth and the almonds give the truffle good texture.

Pistachio-white chocolate truffle with pistachios. I loved this truffle, like the almond, the white chocolate truffle is smooth and the pistachios have great texture and are flavorful.

Key lime-dark chocolate ganache with fresh squeezed key lime. The outside layer is hard and the ganache inside is soft but when you bite into the truffle, it doesn’t separate. I thought that the filling was going to be gooey-before I read the description, and was pleasantly surprised that it was a soft solid. The key lime flavor was a little too strong for me.

We have to wrap up our errands early because we have dinner reservations at Babbo located at 110 Waverly Place in the Village at the Northwest corner of Washington Square Park. The restaurant is owned by Mario Batali, who you may have seen on the Food Network or Iron Chef. You must call (212-777-0303) to get a reservation, and they only accept reservations up to a month in advance. It’s funny I was looking on the internet at the reviews of this place, and people were really upset that they couldn’t get reservations or that they couldn’t get good seatings-well these are the kinds of people who just shouldn’t be going here…if you really want to try the place, you’ll go at 5:30 or 10:30, which are exactly the times that they offered me when I called a month in advance (to the day) right when they opened. It’s a popular restaurant, obviously it’s going to be hard to get a table-I guess those people who complain shouldn’t even try to go to Rao’s. So we go to dinner at 5:45pm. The place hasn’t filled up yet and there are a lot of families here. The service is excellent-when I go out to dinner, not only am I paying for good food but I am paying for the experience. A nice dinner can be ruined by poor service. We arrive and they seat us at a quiet banquet towards the back-they pull out the table for us so we don’t have to do that awkward shimmy in between tables where your rear end ends up in someone elses dinner. Our waiter comes over promptly and asks us if we have questions, of which we have a few.

I order the special appetizer of tomato and mozzarella salad. The tomatoes are different shades of green, yellow, red and orange, and the cheese is excellent. I love getting bites with the flakes of sea salt on them-it just heightens the flavor of the salad. The tomatoes are perfect and ripe-firm on the outside and juicy on the inside-just the way they should be. We order the mint love letters ($20) with spicy lamb sausage and the papardelle bolognese ($21).

(sorry about the poor picture quality-dim lighting and cell phone cameras are not a good combination)

The mint love letter are fresh mint, peas and ricotta cheese raviolis with spicy lamb sausage-and you can really taste the kick of spice in the sausage. the first bite you get the subtle mint flavor and towards the end you get the warming spice of the sausage. The dish is excellent.

The bolognese is fantastic-not the classic recipe but the flavors are bold and exciting. The pasta is cooked perfectly al dente with a nice bite to them. The bread comes around by way of a food runner-the moment you finish your bread another one magically appears on your bread plate. The waiter is knowledgeable and friendly, he is there when you need to ask a question but isn’t hovering. Your empty plates are whisked away and the next course comes seamlessly. For dessert we have the chocolate and pistachio semifreddo ($12) and the assortment of gelati and sorbetti ($12).

The semifreddo is a flourless chocolate cake on the bottom with a pistachio mousse, the combination of flavors is delicious. It feels like while you’re eating it, which is a good thing and a bad thing at the same time!

The gelati come, one scoop each of 7 flavors each in their own little dish (you don’t get to choose what flavors you get). I saw something similar on a show about a restaurant in Vegas, RM seafood in the Mandalay Bay Hotel (they do a 16 scoop sampler where you have to guess the flavors). At Babbo, my flavors are a concord grape, a chocolate, a hazelnut, a goat cheese, an apricot, and olive oil (with some other flavor I can’t remember-lemon maybe). This dessert is an excellent choice-a little bit of everything. Before we leave they bring over complimentary cookies, two each of a meringue cookie, a biscotti and a chocolate cookie. Yum! I can’t say enough good things about Babbo, the service was excellent, the food was amazing, I highly recommend it.

Babbo on Urbanspoon

(check out this guy’s work-it’s pretty cool: he does sand paintings that are amazing!)

It’s early when we leave the restaurant, but it has begun to fill up, there are people crowding around the bar and waiting outside. We walk over to Washington Square Park where there are a bunch of things going on-there are street performers, artists, and music. There are small children running around in the fountain and the park is full of people.

We walk to the outer edge where the Cake and Shake truck is located (South side at West 4th and La Guardia) (Tues – Fri 11am – 9pm; Sat – 11am -10pm; Sun – 11am – 9pm). I thought that they had all the flavors available every day, but they rotate and have 5 flavors per day (out of 20). So I am forced to get flavors I wasn’t really in love with. Cupcakes are $3 each and they are passed to you in brown paper bags which aren’t really condusive to traveling with them. While the cakes are organic, they were also a bit dry. I was bummed out.

Cake & Shake on Urbanspoon

Sunday morning we get up and go to the upper west side for brunch with another couple. We head over to Nice Matin at 201 West 79th Street (Breakfast(Mon- Fri) 7-11:30, (Sat- Sun) 7-10:30 Lunch(Mon-Fri) 11:30-3:30, Late lunch till 5. Brunch Sat 10:30-3:30, Late lunch till 5. Sun 10:30-3:00, Late lunch till 5. Dinner Sun & Mon 5-11, Tue-Sat  5-Midnight.) There happens to be a street fair today, so the road in is closed off-and a lot of people are looking for a place to have brunch. The restaurant was opened in 2003 and is decorated like a European  brasserie. We have a light breakfast outside at a nice table looking out onto the street-eggs and sweet potato breakfast potatoes. Our guests rave about the lamb sausage and the brunch basket is delicious ($8) pain au chocolat, croissant and a lemon poppy seed scone. The food is good but for two of us to eat it ends up being $30 which is a little pricey for scrambled eggs in my opinion.

Nice Matin on Urbanspoon

We stop at Levain Bakery on 167 West 74th Street on the upper west side (open Mon-Sat 8am-7pm; Sun 9am-7pm). I had seen them on Food Network’s “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” and wanted to try their enormous cookies-we settled on the chocolate chip walnut (they also have, dark chocolate chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and dark chocolate peanut butter chip). Amazing-every bite is crammed with chocolate chips and nuts-you have to look to find the cookie dough because there is so much of the ‘good stuff’!

Levain Bakery on Urbanspoon

We also make a quick stop at Alice’s Teacup-a cute place my friend introduced us to the last time we were in NYC. I sent my parents there the last time they were in the city, and they loved it as well. It is a cute Alice themed shop where you can have breakfast, lunch or just a spot of tea. The walls are painted to match the theme-and it’s just a cute place for a tea party. We had breakfast there last time, but stopped in to just buy some loose tea this time. Their tea menu is extensive.

I know nothing about tea, seeing as I am not a tea drinker, so the woman behind the counter is very helpful when I am making my selection. I go with one house blend tea and two other fairly tame choices. She opens each canister and lets me smell each tea before I buy them. The smallest quantity they sell is a 2oz bag-of which I buy one in each of the three flavors I have chosen. They have a great pastry selection for take out as well. We stopped in at the upper west side location: 102 West 73rd (open 8am-8pm), but they also have two other locations:156 East 64th Street (open 8am-8pm)and 220 East 81st Street (open 8am-8pm). I suggest going there early or at off times if you want to eat because it does get crowded!

We say goodbye to our friends and head over to the East Village for lunch at Sarita’s Mac and Cheese or S’Mac located at 345 East 12th Street between 1st and 2nd. (Sun-Thurs 11am-11pm; Fri and Sat 11am-1am (dine in closes at 11pm))

I had first heard about this place on Oprah when Gayle went here and raved about their mac and cheese. We had been here once before and we came back again because we love it. You can get various sizes in a variety of flavors (they do gluten free pasta too!!) and you can get them all with or without breadcrumbs. They come served in a skillet brought out to your table.You can choose from one of the pre selected flavors of you can dream up your own-and if you are feeling especially adventurous, try the sampler.

(the Alpine)

(The American)

We chose the All America which is a blend of American and cheddar cheese in the ‘nosh’ or small size ($4.75) and the nosh size of the Alpine which is Gruyere cheese and slab bacon ($7.25). The place is pretty small, you order at the counter and they bring the meals out to you, and it can get a bit sunny in the afternoon by the windows. I have to admit that while we were there this past time, I saw a small  mouse dart from the wall by my table into the kitchen, the girls behind the counter saw it too but seemed disinterested. While this should have deterred me from eating there-think of the heath code violations, I do love their mac and cheese.

S'MAC on Urbanspoon

We walk back towards the hotel and go to Chelsea Market to people watch. Inside the market are a bunch of stores that we have visited before.

Fat Witch bakery that sells brownies ($2.85 each). The store is small. They have some pre packaged brownies and gift boxes as well as some behind the case that you can choose and make up your own box.  The walnut had a good crunch to it but the consistency was a bit grainy and gritty. The snow witch was an all white chocolate brownie that I found to be super sweet and like the walnut, a bit grainy and gritty.

Fat Witch Bakery on Urbanspoon

Eleni’s sells cupcakes and designer cookies. They are delightful to look at but a bit expensive ($65 for 14). The last time we were there we had the “Christopher” a white cake with butter cream frosting that was whipped-the cake was just super dry. The Rivington was a chocolate cupcake with Reeses and a peanut butter butter cream. Again the cake was dry and it just wasn’t good. The George cupcake was a chocolate cupcake with marshmallow and cookie crunch on top, like an oreo, it was dry as well but it had the best tasting icing of the three we chose.

Eleni's New York on Urbanspoon

Jacques Torres has a counter where we buy a few items-a few pieces of chocolate and the wicked hot chocolate($18/18oz) that features allspice, cinnamon, ground, sweet ancho chili peppers, and smoked, ground chipotle chili peppers!. They have alternate locations in Brooklyn’s DUMBO area and on Hudson Street. We have been to both of the other stores, and frankly the DUMBO one is our favorite because they have ice cream there that is out of this world.

The peanut butter. Very smooth filling, strong peanut taste-like eating a straight spoonful of pb.

Cinnamon-It’s spicy! Think about eating 10 red hot candies at once-it caught me a little off guard.

Hazelnut-super smooth, loved the flavor.

I first heard about this place on Giada’s Weekend Getaways, a show on Food Network. I tried the love bug the first time, which is a white chocolate shell with a key lime inside-SO good. (Oh and they also have stores on Amsterdam and at Harrah’s)

We also make a stop at the gelato stand in the market-L’Arte del Gelato. The yogurt with mixed berries is an excellent choice!

And so then we head back to our hotel to collect our things and make our way to the station to go home. Until next time New York….


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